Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Genesis 2:4-25 (Man and Woman He Made Them)

Genesis contains two seemingly similar creation stories. Followers of the documentary hypothesis would say that the first story is from the Priestly scribe whilst the second story (the one I am discussing here) is from the Jahwist scribe. Geisler and Howe argue that the change in the reference to God is due to a different usage and not an indication of a different scholar. Schofield argues that the first creation story tells that of the whole universe including man, whereas the second tells only that of mankind. There are further questions as to how to reconcile the two stories and even if reconciling them makes sense.

I'm not interested in reconciling the two stories or trying to document the Documentary Hypothesis. Nor do I wish to engage with Schofield and others who maintain that Moses was the author of at least the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. I want to comment on the passage itself.

Disregarding how God made the Earth in one day - or even if He did - the Earth had no shrubs and no vegetation. Yet, a mist would spring forth from the ground. It is from the barren Earth that God formed a human - Adam (which means human) - from the ground. The name Adam, meaning human, is male but it is not the human's gender that is the wonder. The Bible states, "The Lord God...breathed into his nostrils the breath of life." However one wishes to interpret this, God gave man life. That is what this part of Genesis is telling me.

Then God planted a garden. It was good to the sight and its goodness needs to be understood as the goodness as described to the Hebrew people. Everything was there to be had excepting the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Then God decided man needed a helper of some forth and began to create animals that might help the man but no animal could really provide the type of help the man needed.

So God created a woman out of the man. Adam takes this woman as his own flesh and a gift, a help from God. The chapter ends with both man and woman naked and unashamed.

Stop combatting the words and what do you take from these verses? Here's what I take from them:

1. God is the creator, the instigator of the creation but neither this passage nor the previous chapter are meant to fill in every small detail - if they did the Bible wouldn't get past the first chapter or maybe even verse (think of all the dull physics, chemistry, biology it would contain).

2. Water is somehow there even though the land is barren; even though there has been no rains brought by God or nature, there is a mist; a primeval mist maybe.

3. The first human, Adam (human), was formed from the dust of the Earth but this leaves the how up to God. All it states is that God breathed in man life but it doesn't state how.

4. God caused a garden to grow and in that garden was one of His special trees, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; rather than keep man from this tree and not share with man this garden which is described as a most pleasing place to be, God allows the two humans to be there but they're not allowed to eat His tree lest they die.

5. Modern humans might find this a little disturbing, we don't like such arbitrary authority. Yet, surely we've left friends, kids and loved ones in our places of trust sometimes saying "Don't drink all the soft drink" and such. When I leave my friends in my house or let them go to the bathroom in my house it's understood that they shouldn't go snooping in my private drawers in my room which has nothing to do with them even though the door is open and inviting them.

6. That said, God realised man was alone and there was no help for him. Help implies subordination but it's hard to translate that word. Woman was more man's equal - she was more a companion, a support to him as he was to her. If man only needed a subordinate surely one of the animals would have sufficed.

7. Adam rejoices in his new found companion and the Bible comments on how this justifies a man and woman being together as companions. Note that it doesn't say "No sexual relations" or anything puritanical like that.

8. It ends showing that Adam and Eve (the man and woman) were both still blissfully unaware of their nakedness.

So, God simply says He created things with one broad brush. It would have been nice if He'd explained physics, chemistry and biology and the rest at the same time, but that isn't the purpose of Genesis. That said, the Earth we are shown being created isn't so different from what we would expect. God isn't describing an alien setting to us. God gave us life. God is able to place us in situations of great goodness and at least, then, believed He could trust us not to tamper with His "special things". I'm certain He could have simply surrounded the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil with angels wielding swords but instead He chose to give us our own free will and to make up our own minds. That said, God wasn't able to find an animal quite like the man so he created a similar being but slightly different; nonetheless she wasn't subordinate but she was of his flesh and he was meant to be joined to her flesh. They were one.

Most of all, we were born and created in innocence.

These conclusions, I believe, are universal and it is up to us, with our faith and science to figure out how God managed this feat as best we can. But just because we may one day figure it out, doesn't put God out of the picture. It just means we understand His story a little better.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Vajean's Lament (What's God Got to Do With It?)

At the end of the musical, Les Miserables, Valjean sings a lament of his loneliness and dreams that Cosette, his adopted daughter, being with him at his death bed. He prays that God gives them grace on their wedding day and then sings a melancholy version of “Bring Him Home” but this time about himself. At this time, the spirit of Fantine appears and she blesses his name and says that because he raised her daughter in love he will be with God. Marius and Cosette burst in; Cosette is confused about what is happening but Marius explains he realises now it it was Valjean who saved him from the barricade that night.

Valjean gives Cosette the story of his life and those who’ve always loved her. It’s the truth she wanted at the start of the act. Fantine’s spirit then beckons him to her, to a place where chains will never bind him and his grief will no longer be there. Valjean responds by asking forgiveness from God. Fantine’s spirit and Eponine’s spirit urge Valjean to take his hand and lead him to salvation. They give him their love and finally they sing “to love another person is to see the face of God.”

I’ve always loved this scene. It is so powerful, so evocative and so moving. It has so many subtle shades of meaning. Valjean is feeling alone and frightened. He wants to be brought home where home clearly means to heaven with God. He’s penned an answer to Cosette his daughter when at first he was hesitant to do so. He’s not able to wish his daughter and son-in-law well at their wedding so he prays that they will. And he knows he is dying.

Valjean is not only alone but he is feeling a deep loneliness. Yet, two spirits, his daughter and son-in-law appear as if from nowhere to comfort him. Although Les Miserables isn’t overtly religious it is set against a very heavy religious background. The book begins with the good Bishop of Digne and whilst the Bishop’s role is not expounded as much in the musical - anyone who has read the book would know why - it is clear that the Bishop isn’t just any normal Catholic dignitary. The musical’s story line effectively ends with the word “God”.

And it is clear what their job is: to reassure him that he is blessed, that his sins are forgiven and the has a place in heaven. And that he has unknowingly seen one of the face’s of God. There’s no magic or witchcraft in Les Miserables; it’s obvious who sent Fantine and Eponine back to Valjean to comfort him. It was God.

When Valjean prayed to God in his loneliness, thinking he was alone, God sent him comfort both physical and spiritual. This is one of the meanings I get from this song.

Cosette knows there’s something odd about their life. They’re always keeping to themselves and one can imagine how she’s not allowed to get too close to the other children or their families. She’d also notice the strange generosity of her father. But most of all, even though I understand many richer people in France at the time employed nannies, she would not have known her mother. She points this out to her father, Valjean who is also musing about how their odd life is affecting his daughter.

She wants to know the truth. Hinting that there are truths that she may not want her to know, Valjean tries to put her off. I’d imagine she would be old enough to attract a university student so she’d be just after her teens or maybe eighteen or nineteen and I would suppose any parent of a young girl would know just how persistent young girls can be.

Valjean eventually responds that “truth is given by God in our time, in our turn”.

And there is God again. Does God allow the truth to be known to her? Yes, yes he does. But it’s not always a palatable truth. Fantine’s husband - Fantine is Cosette’s mother - dumped her because of Cosette. Fantine worked as a prostitute and caught the consumption. Because of the dire circumstances, Fantine had to leave Cosette with the Thenardiers who are at best physically abusive and certainly spent as little as they could on her. Her adopted father is a convicted criminal who escaped once and has lived a life as someone else for a good number of years. These are truths in the era that Les Miserables is set in that you do not want to know. They’re uncomfortable and they’re enough to make you an outcast.

But Valjean’s words to her are these are stories of those who always loved her. These are the stories that are true, no hidden stories, warts and all.

This says to me that God didn’t hide the truth from her. He may have withheld it for some time - a revolution and finding a new love kind of got in the way - but when He did allow it to be given, it was the full truth. Not some child’s version; and reading between the lines one can sense that Cosette’s grown up enough to make sense of it.

We can talk very quickly about the wedding. It certainly does go well, except the Thenardiers gate crash the reception. Although this could have taken a bad turn of events, Mr. Thenardier presents Marius with Marius’ own ring and Marius realises just who actually saved him. After dispatching the Thenardiers with a few good punches, he runs off before Valjean can leave for England thus setting the scene for the scene I am discussing.

Some might say that this was providence but was it? Did Valjean’s prayers in “Bring Him Home” go unnoticed? Did his prayers that the two may be blessed go unnoticed? No, they did not.

And finally, he knows he is dying. Yet God sends his family and the spirits from the past to comfort him and to reassure him that even though he is dying - there’s going to be no magical recovery for him - he has earned himself a place in heaven with God.

Les Miserables is an absolutely fantastic musical with songs that are comical, sad, uplifting and sometimes downright depressing. There are so many ways to understand it and work with its story and its message.

But the story makes no sense without God - and just like today, He’s not part of the active cast but He’s very much active throughout the musical.